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Snowboarder, snowmobiler killed in two separate Colorado avalanches on Sunday

Ten backcountry travelers have died in avalanches in Colorado this season, making this winter the deadliest since 2012-13. The hazard continues to climb as new snow and high winds stress a weak snowpack.

A photo of a deadly avalanche near Loveland Ski Area that happened Feb. 14, 2021. (Colorado Avalanche Information Center handout)
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The death toll from avalanches in Colorado climbed to 10 on Sunday.

A snowboarder touring solo near Mount Trelease north of Loveland Pass was buried in a very big slide around 9:30 a.m. Sunday and a snowmobiler was caught in a slide west of Rollins Pass later in the day. 

Alpine Rescue Team rescuers responded to the slide on Mount Trelease early Sunday in a popular backcountry area known as Pat’s Knob. In the debris of the large avalanche, they spotted a deployed airbag backpack

The snowboarder was found partially buried, his head beneath the snow, in the avalanche, which ran on an east-facing slope above the treeline. 

The avalanche Sunday near Rollins Pass also ran on an east-facing slope. A man reported the slide to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office around 1:40 p.m., saying his father had been caught in the slide and was unconscious. “When the avalanche stopped, the snowmobiler was buried underneath his sled on Pumphouse Lake,” the preliminary report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reads. 

Search and rescue teams were unable to revive the man, the sheriff’s office said.

A picture of an avalanche near Rollins Pass that killed a snowboarder on Feb. 14, 2021. (CAIC handout)

More detailed reports will follow investigations by the center’s avalanche forecasters. 

The center’s backcountry avalanche forecasts for the Vail / Summit County zone and the Front Range zone ranked avalanche danger as “considerable.” The forecasts warned that the most dangerous slopes were north through east to southeast, where recent winds have built fresh slabs as deep as 3 feet. The new snow is stressing a layer of weak, faceted snow crystals deep in the snowpack, which fails when burdened with heavy layers of new snow. 

“An avalanche that starts in the recent-storm snow will most likely break down into layers of old weak snow,” reads the center’s Front Range avalanche forecast. “You can trigger large, broad-breaking, far-running avalanches on many slopes, particularly those with signs of recent wind loading.”

Ten people have died in avalanches in Colorado this season, nearing the record of 11 set in 2012-13, when five men were killed in a single slide in the Sheep Creek drainage off Loveland Pass on April 20, 2013. Across the country, avalanches this winter have killed 24 backcountry travelers skiers, which is one more than all of last season. And there is still a lot of winter left. 

On Saturday, a snowboarder in East Vail survived even though he was completely buried by an avalanche. A preliminary report from the avalanche center said the snowboarder was able to make an air pocket in front of his face before he was buried. He also was able to put his Black Diamond Avalung in his mouth, which enables buried skiers to breathe beneath snow. His partner located him using an avalanche transceiver and dug him free.

The center’s report said he was buried under a foot to a foot-and-a-half of snow. (The accident Saturday was not in the same area of East Vail where Vail local Johnny Kuo was killed in an avalanche on Feb. 4.)

For up to date information on Colorado avalanche risk, visit avalanche.state.co.us.

Both the Front Range and Vail / Summit County zones were under a “special avalanche advisory” on Sunday, which noted that “avalanche conditions are unusual.”

“Your normal routes and safety habits may not keep you out of a dangerous avalanche,” reads the advisory that lasts through Monday. “Backcountry travelers need to take extra precautions this weekend. Check current conditions for the area you plan to travel. Adjust your plan for the day to fit the current avalanche conditions.”


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